I’m fully prepared to be strung up by my you-know-whats for saying that the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables is worse than a disappointment: it’s an outright bad movie. The epic story of a career criminal who starts a new life, kidnaps a child and finds himself in the middle of the French revolution—watching over his shoulder for a dogged policeman who could expose his secret and throw him back in the clink—Les Mis is much beloved. A handful of good performances are unable to help this film find traction, thanks in no small part to odd stylistic and casting choices by director Tom Hooper (The Kings Speech). The story gets lost in the cacophony of sing-talking and over-the-top acting.
A simple story is complicated by a varity of subplots, some being more interesting than the protagonist’s redemption, the most notable being the tragic story of a working woman who falls on hard times and, eventually, prostitution to help feed her child. Anne Hathaway brings dynamic range and powerful emotion to her performance, giving the audience a hope—if only for a moment—that the movie has finally found its footing. Her operatic performance of the film’s signature tune, “I Dreamed a Dream” is deep and profound. And then she dies.
Les Mis’ primary flaw comes from the casting of great actors instead of singers. While star Hugh Jackman is a musical veteran, costar and rival Russel Crowe is not, and his pitchy, breathy sing-talking grates on your ears.
Newcomer Samantha Barks is the biggest revelation in the film and serves as a guide for how the movie could be made. Reprising her role as Eponine from the stage the young actress provides a breathtaking vocal and physical performance that centers the movie. Her role as a third-leg in an unbelievable love triangle and weepy, angst-filled character came to the fore at the exact moment I had enough of the film’s melodrama so it was too late. If only Hooper had more people like her, however, to keep the movie tolerable.
The sets look like sets; limited and overly adorned to seem real, instead coming off as busy. For a movie that uses Paris as its playground the visuals are limited in scope and we never get a true sense of the world the film inhabits.
A few shining moments did not prevent me from becoming utterly bored with this melodramatic, self-important musical. While people who love the stage show will no doubt enjoy seeing it translated to the big screen I will be glad when I’ve forgotten ever seeing it.
Recommended If You Like: